As Gross Rosen fades into the distance so does our solemnity. The landscape is uplifting: green rolling hills of forest and farmland. Sweeping along these smooth traffic-free roads is exhilarating and when we reach the valley plains, we see Ksiaz castle sitting majestically at the top of the ridge line in the distance.
The climb up to Ksiaz, at 400m (1300ft), marks the only proper challenge of the tour and is our first real mountain goat test. The slope is gradual from the valley floor until, with about 200m (650ft) elevation left, we steer our way up through the Ksiaz Landscape Park via a twisting path with some steep sections. There are plenty of opportunities to take a break and cast our eyes over the distance we’ve covered today. The views are superb on such a clear day and we’re all momentarily breathless (for a couple of reasons).
The castle at Ksiaz is an immaculate 13th century fortified castle that survived WWII largely unscathed. Gleaming brilliantly in the late afternoon sun, the old servant’s quarters that house our rooms for the night are a welcome sight and it isn’t long before we’re all showered and eating a welcome dinner in the castle’s restaurant.
Morning brings us a two-hour guided tour of the castle. It’s interesting to hear that there are tunnels underneath the castle which were part of Project Reisse – a top secret project initiated by Hitler that sought to connect a group of strategic sites via a network of tunnels. Conspiracy theories abound about the purpose and contents of these tunnels – when the Germans retreated, the tunnels were partially collapsed in places.
With the sun warming us, we are rewarded for yesterday’s uphill climb to Ksiaz with a fast and thrilling downhill section of 15kms (9.5 miles) to Swidnica. We make a quick stop on a flat section to take photographs of WWII jet fighters, armoured vehicles with satellite dishes and artillery systems that sit bizarrely by the side of the road. Faces glowing and heads buzzing from adrenaline, we’re soon sampling some locally grown and brewed produce in Swidnica’s attractive market square. Swidnica is home to the other surviving Church of Peace (Jawor) and after lunch we visit it and compare notes and exchange opinions on which one we prefer!
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